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Neurosystems for National Security
I came across a research program at the Mind Research Network. It's called the Neurosystems for National Security and looks like it deals with the applications of brain technology towards improving the functioning of military personnel. Here's an excerpt;
MRN possesses the unique ability to utilize and combine functional imaging and brain scanning techniques (fMRI, MEG, EEG), computer modeling and simulation, cortical brain stimulation and genetics to investigate how the brain functions and how it can be made to function better for the safety, security, and reliability of our military and national security interests.

One potential benefit involves helping military and national security personnel make better decisions under stress. Biological changes occur in the brain and body in response to stress. These stress responses are intended to serve adaptive functions, but can also have a negative influence on cognition and behavior. One of our goals is to develop methods and techniques to leverage and modulate stress to optimize decision making. The ability to better modulate stress in times of crisis would be invaluable to both the foot soldier under fire and the general commander making critical national security decisions.
Many militaries have shown interest in brain research (see neurowarfare report). There are obviously a lot of ethical issues to this type of stuff. Should we really be pushing to use brain tools to improve the functioning of soldiers? There may be less benign things like using transcranial magnetic stimulation to reduce cognitive deficits associated with fatigue. Obviously if you could increase the sum total of cognitive or creative capacity of personnel it could have a huge effect on how well the military performs. There may be other radical stuff that might crop up in the next ten years that could be more ethically dubious.

Understanding the underpinnings of the stress response could enable soldiers who are better able to cope with being in battle. I've mentioned about using neurotechnology to amplify feelings of empathy. However, there is also the converse. New tools of neuromodulation might possibly selectively reduce these feelings temporarily to enable better soldiers who are less concerned about killing others. The insular cortex is a region of the mind that is involved with feelings of disgust. Perhaps you would alter activity in this area with certain drugs or brain manipulation techniques in order to regulate how disgusted a person felt from their actions. The intensity of other negative feelings like fear also might be lessened in severity. Beta blockers have shown promise in weakening the experience of bothersome traumatic fearful memories for instance. Maybe they could adjust activity in the anterior cingulate cortex in order to blunt feelings of pain as well. I think even minor alterations in soldiers brain functioning can be problematic from an ethical standpoint. It could be used by the government to make soldiers more likely to stay in the military or follow orders.

Brain technology has other applications to national security issues. Researchers have shown interest in using TMS/tDCS for detecting and altering deceptive behavior. Will these new tools allow a person to cooperate more with authorities? Perhaps they could be used to make a prisoner more likely to tell the truth. As these devices become more refined, it may become easier to alter a person's behavior in a specific way. Ultrasonic neuromodulation might potentially be used to change activity in reward related brain regions for positive reinforcement. There is also the possibility of using these methods to non-invasively modulate areas of the mind associated with pain for torture. I think we will have to have robust defenses against these sorts of abuses by people in authority.

Deaths from conflict have been on the decline over the past 50 years. So I'm somewhat optimistic that new tools will be beneficial for humanity as opposed to making things worse. Perhaps people in the future will choose to modify their behavior in order to edit out warlike tendencies. These technologies should theoretically enable people to enhance feelings of being one and at peace with others. Humanity may eventually change their temperament to such a radical extent that almost no conflicts will occur. This would be an extreme shift in how the world operates. Regardless of what actually happens, there are many interesting issues with regards to neurotechnology that our society may increasingly have to grapple with as time goes forward.

See Mind Research Network Sponsors Lecture on Neurosystems for National Security.


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